B. N. Rau

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B. N. Rau
Sir B. N. Rao.jpg
Judge of the International Court of Justice
In office
Preceded byCharles De Visscher
Succeeded byMuhammad Zafarullah Khan
President of the United Nations Security Council
In office
June 1951
Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir
In office
Preceded byKailash Nath Haksar
Succeeded byRam Chandra Kak
Personal details
Born(1887-02-26)26 February 1887
Mangalore, Madras Presidency, British India Present day – Karnataka
Died30 November 1953(1953-11-30) (aged 66)
Zurich, Switzerland
OccupationCivil servant, jurist, constitutional scholar

Sir Benegal Narsing Rau, CIE, (26 February 1887 – 30 November 1953) was an Indian civil servant, jurist, diplomat and statesman known for his key role in drafting the Constitution of India. He was also India's representative to the United Nations Security Council from 1950 to 1952. His brothers were Governor of the Reserve Bank of India Benegal Rama Rau and journalist and politician B. Shiva Rao.

One of the foremost Indian jurists of his time, Rau helped draft the constitutions of Burma in 1947 and India in 1950. As India's representative on the United Nations Security Council (1950–52), he was serving as president of the council when it recommended armed assistance to South Korea (June 1950). Later he was a member of the Korean War post Armistice United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC).

A graduate of the Universities of Madras and Cambridge, Rau entered the Indian civil service in 1910. After revising the entire Indian statutory code (1935–37), he was knighted (1938) and made judge (1939) of the Bengal High Court at Calcutta (Kolkata). His writings on Indian law include a noted study on constitutional precedents as well as articles on human rights in India. He served briefly (1944–45) as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir state. From February 1952 until his death, he was a judge of the Permanent Court of International Justice, The Hague. Before his election to the court, he was regarded as a candidate for secretary-general of the United Nations.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

BN Rau 1988 stamp of India

Rau was born on 26 February 1887 in a family of intellectuals. His father Benegal Raghavendra Rau was an eminent doctor. Rau from the Canara High School, Mangalore, topping the list of students of the entire Madras Presidency. He graduated in 1905 with a triple first degree in English, Physics, and Sanskrit, and gained an additional first in Mathematics in 1906.[2] On a scholarship, he proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, and took his Tripos in 1909, just missing the Senior Wranglership.[3]

Bureaucratic and judicial career[edit]

B. N. Rau passed the Indian Civil Service Examination in 1909 and returned to India, posted to Bengal. Doing well on the executive side, in 1909 he moved to the judiciary thereafter, and served as a judge in several districts in East Bengal.[2] In 1925, he was offered a dual position by the Assam government, as Secretary to the provincial council as well as Legal Remembrancer to the government. He served in this position for about eight years.[2] In addition to these duties, he occasionally fulfilled additional functions for the Assam government, such as drafting memoranda for financial support for the Simon Commission's tour of India in 1928–29, and presenting their case before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament in London after the third Round Table Conference in 1933.[4] He also worked with Sir John Kerr to prepare a note on how provincial legislatures in India might be designed to work better.[4]

On his return to India in 1935, Rau worked with the Reforms Office of the Government of India, on drafting the Government of India Act, 1935. At the end of this project, Sir Maurice Gwyer, the first Chief Justice of India's Federal Court, suggested that he gain the necessary five years' experience that would qualify him to serve as a judge on the Federal Court as well.[5] He served thereafter as a judge on the Calcutta High Court, but his tenure was interrupted by two additional projects that he was assigned to by the Government of India – he first presided over a court of inquiry concerning wages and working conditions on railways in India, and thereafter with a commission working on reforms concerning Hindu law.[5] He also was reassigned to chair the Indus Waters Commission, which submitted a report on riparian rights on in 1942.[6]

His distinguished work brought him a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in the 1934 New Year Honours list[7] and a knighthood in 1938.[8] Rau retired from service in 1944, and was then appointed as the Prime Minister of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.[6] He resigned from this position in 1945, following differences with the then-Maharaja of Kashmir, writing in his resignation letter that "...I have been conscious for some time that we do not see eye to eye on certain fundamental matters of external and internal policy. And that leads, as it must lead, to disagreement in many a detail. I have never questioned and I do not now question, the position that in all these matters Your Highness' decision must be final. The Prime Minister must either accept it or resign."[6]

Following his resignation as Chief Minister of Kashmir, Rau was asked to serve in a temporary capacity in the Reforms Office of the Government of India, which he did so. He was also offered, and declined, the position of a permanent judge on the Calcutta High Court, preferring to stay in the Reforms office and work on constitutional and federal issues.[9] He was consequently appointed as a Secretary in the Governor-General's office, working on constitutional reforms, until he became the Constitutional Advisor to the Constituent Assembly in 1946.[9]

While the Constituent Assembly was engaged in discussing the draft Constitution, Rau also worked on preparing a brief on the question of whether the United Nations Security Council could intervene in a dispute between the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Indian government, and was part of a delegation that represented India at the United Nations General Assembly, concerning this question as well as issued relating to the peaceful uses of atomic energy.[10]

Role in drafting the Constitution of India[edit]

B. N. Rau was appointed as the Constitutional Adviser to the Constituent Assembly in formulating the Indian Constitution in 1946.[9] He was responsible for the general structure of its democratic framework of the Constitution and prepared its initial draft in February 1948.[11] This draft was debated, revised and finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India on 26 November 1949.[12]

As part of his research in drafting the Constitution of India, in 1946, Rau travelled to the U.S.A., Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, where he had personal consultations with judges, scholars, and authorities on constitutional law.[13] Amongst others, he met Justice Felix Frankfurter of the American Supreme Court, who famously advised him against the inclusion of a clause for 'due process' in the Indian Constitution as it would impose an 'undue burden' on the judiciary.[14]

The Constituent Assembly's resolution setting up the Drafting Committee, under the chairmanship of B. R. Ambedkar, declared that it was being set up to "Scrutinise the Draft of the text of the Constitution prepared by the Constitutional Adviser giving effect to the decisions taken already in the Assembly and including all matters ancillary thereto or which have to be provided in such a Constitution, and to submit to the Assembly for consideration the text of the Draft Constitution as revised by the Committee." There already was a Draft in existence when this Committee was set up.[15]

Role in drafting the Constitution of Burma[edit]

Rau also assisted in drafting the early Constitution of Myanmar, or Burma, as it was then known. He met with U Aung San, Burma's Prime Minister, in New Delhi in December 1946, who invited him to assist in drafting Burma's Constitution. Burma's Constitutional Advisor was deputed to New Delhi in April 1947 where they worked together to collect research materials, and prepared a first draft that was taken back to Rangoon for modifications by a Drafting Committee. The Constitution was adopted on 24 September 1947.[16] Rau went to Rangoon (now Yangon) to witness the final draft of the Constitution being passed by the legislature.[17]

Diplomatic career[edit]

Rau served India as a representing delegate in the United Nations. From 1949 to 1952 he was India's Permanent Representative to the UN, till he was appointed as a Judge of the International Court in The Hague. He also served as the President of the United Nations Security Council in June 1950.[18]

Tenure on the Court of International Justice[edit]

Rau was invited by the Ministry of External Affairs to stand for election to the International Court of Justice towards the end of 1951, and began service towards 1952. He served for about a year, before succumbing to ill health while being treated in Zurich in 1953.[19] In 1988, On the occasion of his birth centenary, the Govt. of India issued a postage stamp in honor of B.N. Rau.[20]


  • B.N. Rau (1947) Constitutional Precedents (New Delhi: Government of India Press)
  • B.N. Rau (1948) The Constitution of the Union of Burma, 23 Wash. L. Rev. & St. B. J. 288
  • B. N. Rau (1949) The Parliamentary System of Government in India 24 Wash. L. Rev. & St. B. J. 91
  • B.N. Rau (1949) The Indian Constitution (Manchester: Manchester Guardian)
  • B.N. Rau (1951) India and the Far East: Burwash Memorial Lectures (Toronto: Victoria University)
  • Rau, B. N. (1960). Rao, B. Shiva (ed.). India's Constitution in the Making. Calcutta: Orient Longmans.


  1. ^ "Sir Benegal Narsing Rau (Indian jurist) – Encyclopædia Britannica". Britannica.com. 30 November 1953. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Rau, p. xv
  3. ^ "B. N. Rau dead". The Hindu. 1 December 2003. Archived from the original on 25 July 2019. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  4. ^ a b Rau, p. xvi
  5. ^ a b Rau, p. xvii
  6. ^ a b c Rau, p. xviii
  7. ^ London Gazette, 29 December 1933
  8. ^ London Gazette, 9 June 1938
  9. ^ a b c Rau, p. xix
  10. ^ Rau, p. xxiv
  11. ^ Shourie, Arun. "The Manu of Our Times?". Archived from the original on 20 February 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2009.
  12. ^ "Celebrating Constitution Day". 26 November 2015. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  13. ^ Rau, p. xxii
  14. ^ Chandrachud, Abhinav (24 May 2010). "Of Constitutional 'Due Process'". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 23 March 2017. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  15. ^ "The Manu of Our Times? by Arun Shourie". Arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com. Archived from the original on 20 February 2012. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  16. ^ Rau, B. N. (1948). "The Constitution of the Union of Burma". Washington Law Review and State Bar Journal. 23: 288–300 – via HeinOnline.
  17. ^ Rau, pp. xix–xx
  18. ^ Presidents of the Security Council : 1950–1959. un.org
  19. ^ Rau, pp. xxvii–xxviii
  20. ^ "Indian Philatelics". 30 November 2017. Retrieved 30 November 2017.